Glass exhibit is a holiday treat |

Glass exhibit is a holiday treat

John Perry / Special to the Tribune

Museums often create special holiday exhibits, but few could ever equal the holiday treat at the Getty Villa Museum in Malibu, Calif., this year. “Reflecting Antiquity: Modern Glass Inspired by Ancient Rome” will be available by reservation through Jan. 14.

Don’t miss it if you can possibly be in the Southern California area before mid-January. This exhibit includes some of the world’s rarest and most fragile pieces of ancient glass ever shown in the western United States. In addition, as the title indicates, it includes marvelous “modern” pieces inspired by the ancient ones.

“Reflecting Antiquity” fulfills the wondrous dream and nearly a dozen years of planning by Dr. Karol Wright, the brilliant senior curator of antiquities at the Getty Villa Museum, and her friend, Dr. David Whitehouse, famed director of the Corning Museum of Glass in New York. Bringing such rarities from the British Museum and Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum must have required all the resources, technologies and influences of the Getty and Corning Foundations as well as the contacts of these two fine scholars.

Cage-cut glass rarely travels because of its rarity and extreme fragility. I doubt that even a substantial fragment has ever been shown in the western United States before, and it may never happen again in any of our lifetimes. But this exhibit includes three major pieces, nearly a quarter of those still in existence.

What is cage-cut glass? The dozen or so remaining pieces are remarkably intricate bowls or cups that began as blanks approximately an inch thick. Outlined patterns were then cut down to an inner bowl – patterns approximately 7/8-inch deep – then those outlined patterns were painstakingly undercut so that an ultimate pattern of lacy glass remained suspended on matchstick-sized struts surrounding the basic vessel. Such pieces required years of labor and were made for the most powerful Roman, usually emperors. Artists who made such pieces were excused from all taxes, military duties or other public obligations.

The Corning Museum of Glass owns the only piece of cage-cut glass in the Western Hemisphere, and the Metropolitan Museum has two exquisite fragments. Most such pieces have geometric patterns, but the rarest piece of all, the Lycurgus Cup, has figural patterns that tell a Greek legend. And the Lycurgus Cup, owned for a century by the Barons Rothchild, is one of the three visiting the Getty Villa.

“Reflecting Antiquity” will also be shown at the Corning Museum of Glass from Feb. 15 through May 27. No other venues are planned. Then these incredible rarities will return to their many generous lenders.

A fine, colorfully illustrated catalog for this exhibit may be ordered from The Corning Museum of Glass, 1 Museum Way, Corning, NY 14830-2253. The cost is $29.95 plus $6 for domestic shipping.

– John Perry is professor of history and humanities at Lake Tahoe Community College.

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